Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP): An Effective Treatment for Autoimmune Disorders

The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) has been shown to be effective in identifying triggers for symptoms of several different autoimmune disorders. AIP is not a lifelong change. Instead, it is a short-term elimination of certain foods to help people determine what foods may be making them sick. Identifying environmental triggers may allow a patient to reduce or discontinue certain medications.

Key takeaways:

Effective treatment for autoimmune-mediated disorders may be found in the kitchen, not only in the doctor’s office. Autoimmune disorders have been diagnosed with increasing frequency in recent years. Treatments for autoimmune diseases vary and often do not eliminate symptoms. Immunosuppressive corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids, though, have debilitating side effects, some of which can be permanent. The cure can be worse than the disease. Studies have pointed to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) as a successful intervention for several different autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT).

What is the AIP diet?

The AIP diet is also known as the hunter-gatherer diet. It involves the elimination of many processed foods and promotes foods that paleolithic humans ate. The diet is intended to reduce inflammation in the gut and to give the body time to heal. Eliminated foods are slowly reintroduced. Foods that produce unpleasant immune responses can be identified and eliminated from the diet.

Foods that are eliminated from the AIP diet include nightshade vegetables, processed meats, food additives, coffee, and grains. A diet rich in unprocessed meats, vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods is encouraged during the maintenance phase of the diet. Various studies show that the AIP diet is effective in controlling many autoimmune disorders.

AIP and chronic bowel diseases

Researchers examined the effect of AIP on patients diagnosed with IBS, ulcerative colitis (UC), and Crohn’s Disease (CD). Fifteen participants enrolled in the study implemented a program called SAD (standard American diet) to AIP in SIX.

During the study, the AIP diet was introduced in three phases:

  1. Elimination phase. During the first 6 weeks, participants eliminated foods that typically trigger an immune response. Foods were gradually eliminated in stages.
  2. Maintenance phase. During the 5-week maintenance phase, participants avoided all eliminated foods and followed the AIP diet.
  3. Staged reintroduction phase. In the last phase of the program, participants slowly reintroduced food groups, one food at a time. This allowed participants to monitor their physiological responses. During this phase, individuals could find out which food groups were triggers for their symptoms. Foods that triggered an autoimmune response can be avoided or eaten only occasionally.

In this study, 73% of study participants achieved clinical remission of their IBS symptoms by week 6, and they remained in remission through the maintenance phase. This study did not follow participants through the staged reintroduction of food groups. Notably, participants in this study had the support of a health coach, dietitian, and other participants through the Facebook group. Participants were also counseled on reducing stress, increasing exercise, and sleep hygiene. All of these could have been factors in their achievement of remission.

AIP and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

The positive impacts of AIP were not limited to IBS patients. Another study found that women diagnosed with HT had significant improvements in their quality of life after participating in the SAD to AIP in SIX programs. Seventy percent of study participants reported symptom remission and a reduction in the use of medication after implementing the AIP diet and receiving online support through the program.

Another study of HT patients found that a gluten-free diet alone might be enough to reduce symptoms. The study found 62% of participants who initiated a gluten-free diet reduced their thyroid antibody titers and other markers of thyroid disease.

Multiple Sclerosis linked to diet patterns

MS is a progressive neurological disorder in which the body attacks the myelin sheath that interconnects neurons. Dietary patterns also had a significant impact on patients with MS. The SAD diet is one factor linked to development of MS.

Studies suggest that people who eat a diet high in saturated fat and processed foods have a 3 times greater risk of developing MS than those with healthy diet patterns. Researchers say that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may provide protection against the detrimental effects of MS. Researchers caution that dietary habits represent an intricate relationship, and the combined effect of many foods supersedes the benefit of one food alone. In fact, the development of MS is a complex interaction between genetics, diet, and other environmental factors.

Are elimination diets sustainable?

Even though elimination diets like AIP can be effective in identifying triggers for autoimmune symptoms, they can be restrictive and hard to follow. One study looked at factors affecting adherence to the Six-Food Elimination Diet (SFED). Like AIP, SFED involves the gradual elimination of 6 food groups known to contribute to autoimmune-mediated diseases. Foods are gradually reintroduced after a maintenance period. Foods that trigger an autoimmune response should be avoided or eaten on a limited basis.

The study sought to find out what prevents people from following elimination diets. Participants who no longer followed the SFED diet cited the following reasons:

  • The diet was hard to follow when dining out or traveling.
  • Meal planning was time consuming.
  • Following the diet created anxiety in social situations.

According to the study, participants who no longer followed SFED were more likely to report being depressed. One factor which increased adherence to SFED was a positive relationship between the patient and provider. A majority of study participants recommended the SFED for a reduction in autoimmune-mediated symptoms, even if they were no longer following the diet.

AIP and other elimination diets can be helpful in the treatment of autoimmune disorders. These elimination diets are not permanent lifestyle changes but can help identify triggers for autoimmune symptoms. Identifying triggers can allow a person to reduce or eliminate the use of medications whose side effects can be debilitating. Foods can have a direct impact on the health of patients with autoimmune diseases.

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